Three years have passed since I became a Twitter aficionado. I have repeatedly written about Twitter in this blog, I have implemented the use of Twitter in my teaching of Italian, I wrote a book chapter on Twitter and I have preached Twitter to family, friends and strangers at my hair salon, bank—basically, everywhere I do my everyday things.
So I have praised Twitter as a tool for creating connections, networking with professionals in my field and related fields, communicating with people across the world. Then, a few months ago, after the AAAL conference in Atlanta, Georgia, I put forth a challenge to fellow linguists to explore technological tools not solely as a researcher but also as a student. I requested they use Twitter, Second Life and other social networking tools to learn a language in a mode that would be analogous to tasks and goals they set for their students. A formidable recommendation, right? Well, would you know that I thought I had been doing just that…but the reality of my use of Twitter to learn Spanish was, well, quite limited. So after I set forth this challenge, I decided to make a more earnest effort to emulate the efforts I had demanded from my students to learn Italian. Basically, physician heal thyself.
My following of Spanish-speaking tweeps is amazing. Some were already in my timeline prior to my issuing of the challenge—they are scholars, language teachers, teachers, interesting people whose tweets appealed to me. They indulge me and despite my lack of Spanish language skills (remember, I grew up in Canada so my third language is French!), engage with me when I tweet them.
What are my “tasks”?
Well, let me first preface all this by saying that my Italian has been quite helpful for me to jump in feet first. I started first by reading tweets and deciphering what was being said and how it was being said. The reading of these short updates—the least intimidating form of communication—is not only entertaining but also educational.
The next step for me was sharing some of the tweets with followers in my timeline. So as an exercise, I would retweet a Spanish tweet and translate it into English and Italian. By the way, I don’t know how my monolingual followers felt about this…I never asked.
Finally, it was time to open up the channels of communication beyond the “hello, how are you?” tweets. I started replying to their tweets, comment on their avatars and generally make myself “open” to conversation. Remember Erving Goffman’s seminal work The Presentation of Self Everyday Life? Well, that’s what I did, started presenting my everyday life in Spanish. Generally, it never amounted to more than a few tweets, but this parallels the type of exchanges we would expect our students to complete in ITAL101. Okay, so I think I’m have achieved the novice-mid/high level on the proficiency scale for reading and writing!
create with the language and communicate simple facts and ideas in a loosely connected series of sentences on topics of personal interest and social needs, primarily in the present.
The beginning of the exchange is reproduced here for readers who understand Spanish. After the customary apology by the language learner (me) for messing up in the target language (Spanish), one of the highlights of this exchange occurred. The words every language learner wants to hear—my tweep told me he understood me very well.
So, wherein do my errors lie?
Well, prepositions for one. The difference between “hacer” and “tener”. Limited vocabulary. Now, to confess (#yoconfiesoque): yes, I did use WordReference to translate expressions…after so many years of language teaching, I automatically recognize that idioms won’t translate. Now, did I think in English before I tweeted? Noticeably, it was more Italian in which I though but for the most part, I was able to immediately start replying in Spanish. Then, I’d be stuck and switch to WordReference to look things up.
Do I feel confident enough?
I’m OK, but hesitant to engage in more specialized language. For example, I read a tweet from another tweep in Mexico who was looking for help transferring text from PowerPoint to Word. Yes, I had the answer. I didn’t however have the language to tweet her through it in Spanish. Luckily, I recalled that her bio page is in English so I tweeted with her in English re the software issue, but after that in Spanish about ourselves. And she corrects me! :p
If I were to take the Spanish placement test, how would I fare?
I don’t know, maybe I could take Spanish 103. Need to build vocabulary and not rely so heavily on Italian (e.g., comer / mangiare / to eat) and, of course, verb conjugations. Are these findings normal? Well, given my desire to learn Spanish (on a scale of 1-10, it’s an 11), and my training as a language teacher, I would have to say that these are not. But I will acknowledge that in these exchanges I am a student and I too experience the anxiety of social networking in the target language.
Even with my training, different things put me off a bit, especially the unwillingness of tweeps to engage. Now, when I follow a new Spanish speaker, my first tweet to them is a greeting telling them I’m trying to learn Spanish so they are forewarned!